Execs from UK net Sky Atlantic unveiled their foray into the documentary space at this morning’s panel at Sheffield Doc/Fest, with the commission of a Nick Broomfield (pictured) doc and the acquisition of Alison Klayman’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.
Naomi Gibney, acting director of Sky Atlantic, said that the channel is focusing on three key genres: drama, comedy and ‘Footprints,’ a new documentary strand that will “connect human stories to the head and heart of viewers.”
The channel’s factual primetime programming focuses on talent-driven documentary series such as Urban Secrets with Alan Cumming, Hotel Secrets and Networks of Power, the latter of which is hosted by the session’s moderator, Sir Christopher Meyer.
The subscription network is also looking for more women presenters and a “smartness, worldliness, and sense of mischief,” said Gibney.
Additionally, Sky Atlantic said it will launch Nutopia’s big blue-chip factual series The British, a reconstruction of the history of Britain told through regular people’s stories.
The seven-part series is a “big step for us,” said Celia Taylor, head of factual and features for Sky Entertainment, as it represents a move into history content. “We made the rash decision to cover the entire history of Britain,” she said, adding: “We’re not getting enough of these big ambitious ideas.”
Gibney also outlined that the network will be doing a range of deals for content, from acquisitions and copros, to fully funded commissions.
For feature docs, she said it would be seeking out the stories that filmmakers have been desperate to tell for years, which led to the commission of Nick Broomfield’s The Grim Sleeper, the first ‘Footprints’ doc. The film focuses on the story of Lonnie Franklin Jr, an alleged serial killer in California.
Taylor added that the team would be looking for the caliber of feature docs that goes on the festival circuit and wins awards. Sky Atlantic has acquired festival favorite Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, which won an award at Sundance in January and earlier this week was at the heart of a major diplomatic row involving the Chinese Embassy in London, as first revealed by realscreen.
“We’re off to a cracking start,” said Taylor, adding that the network is already interested in a number of feature docs, and aims to air a total of 12 documentaries per year.
For both factual and documentary offerings, Taylor and Gibney make it clear that what is important for Sky is ambiguity. The team is not looking for content that teaches a lesson, while specifically for docs, Taylor says they are not after campaigning films.
“We want human stories that take you on a surprising journey,” she said. As for budgets, she said the prices range from “very cheap to very expensive,” while adding that the team understands how much some programs need, and don’t need.
“What people thought was a U.S. drama channel is a grown-up, smart, bold offering, and factual plays a big part of that,” said Gibney.